By George Von Benko
Ray Yauger hasn’t played football since 1970, so the former North Union and Laurel Highlands star was surprised to learn that after all these years he still ranks number 11 on Clemson University’s All-Time rushing list with a total of 2,439 yards.
“There have been a lot of good players there and I didn’t realize that - I don’t follow that,” Yauger marveled. “But it amazes me - I guess I had a lot of good guys playing with me for me to get the numbers up to where they are.”
Yauger was a standout in football and basketball at North Union High School, which merged with bitter rival South Union in 1967 to form Laurel Highlands High School. Despite being separated until a new high school was built - the Mustang basketball team helped bring the two schools together. LH went 23-0 in the regular season before falling in triple overtime to Mt. Lebanon in the WPIAL semi-finals 82-75.
Despite being bitter rivals the athletes from the two schools bonded nicely.
“When we joined together - I guess you never thought as far as this guy being from North and this guy being from South,” Yauger recalled. “It never entered anybody’s mind. Whoever was the best player was going to play and that’s the way it was.”
The highlight of the 1966-1967 season was the first meeting between Uniontown and Laurel Highlands on the basketball court and the beginning of a great rivalry.
Laurel Highlands stunned Uniontown that night with a 83-73 victory. That snapped Uniontown’s 88 game home court winning streak and was the first section loss for the Red Raiders in 59 games.
“I haven’t thought about it for for years,” Yauger reminisced. “The crowd was so large and so loud and I guess Horse Taylor just kept us under control and everybody with Wilbur and Hobgood and the way they played we just kept it under control and took the game.”
Yauger remembered his coach Harold “Horse” Taylor fondly.
“I loved Horse and I loved him and loved playing for him,” Yauger opined.
The triple overtime loss to Mt. Lebanon ended the Mustangs run that year and to this day is the subject of many debates.
“I don’t know what overtime I fouled out, but everybody kept fouling out and I think at the end we had Hobgood left,” Yauger said. “One after another we all fouled out. We gave it the best shot and what an outstanding game.”
The loss prevented a match up with eventual state champion Ambridge, a match up many basketball fans wanted to see.
“It would’ve been great for us to play those guys,” Yauger pondered. “With our team as far as what we had it’s too bad you can’t go back in time to play a game like that and get to play those guys. Because I followed all those guys and two or three of those guys played in the Atlantic Coast Conference and I went to Clemson and it was great following those Ambridge guys. I got to see them play and it would have been great, but we didn’t get to do it.”
Yauger was a good basketball player, but the football field is where he really made his mark.
He looked back at the first Laurel Highlands football team. - a team that posted a 2-7 record.
“That was another case as far as a lot of good guys came over from South Union, and I guess it wasn’t the right time as far as the team was concerned,” Yauger explained. “Winning and losing - we didn’t win that many games, But I think we were competitive overall.”
“So many good athletes from North Union and Uniontown and South Union, and there were so many good athletes that played at North Union and at South Union and then played at Laurel Highlands - just a lot of good athletes.”
One of the highlights of the 1966 football season was the first game against Connellsville. The Falcons led by their great running back Jim Braxton downed the Mustangs 37-6.
“Braxton probably I would think and this is my personal opinion - is one of the best players ever to come out of this area,” Yauger recalled. “Jim Braxton when we played Connellsville my senior year - he hit me harder than any player that I’ve ever been hit by. He was just a great player.”
Yauger decided to accept a football scholarship to Clemson.
“I guess it was a case of southern hospitality. The people just treated you so nice and you just felt welcomed down there. It was like a second home, Yauger said.”
With the Tigers, he was on teams that posted records of 4-5-1 in 1968, 4-6 in 1969 and 3-8 in 1970.
Yauger had a solid career for the Tigers and his name still dots the Clemson record book.
Recorded two-200 yard rushing games; 10/69 vs. Wake Forest and 11/68 vs. North Carolina. 1968 and 1969 Clemson scoring leader. Led team in rushing in 1969 & 1970. Averaged 96.8 yards/game in 1969 which is the 10th best in school history. Number 11 on Clemson all-time rushing list with 2439 career rushing yards and 16 rushing touchdowns. Career pass receiving caught 45 passes for 329 yards and seven touchdowns.
He was named First Team All ACC in 1969.
An injury cost Yauger a shot at pro football.
“My whole thought was to play some professional ball,” Yauger explained. “At spring practice April of 1970 and just about the second or third practice from the end, I’m cutting down the sideline and I was hit from the side and tore my ACL. I had surgery in April and came back and played in August and tore my hamstring and never came back. Some scouts were looking at me and I thought about it, but my stock as far as going to the pros dwindled after that and that was it.”
Following his graduation from Clemson he started working with Shell Oil Company. He was with Shell Oil for 10 years. He was semi-retired after owning a convenience store business for 23-years that he sold. He then was involved with electronic systems for cars. In 2010, he bought a convenience store and then sold it in 2015. He is now retired.
Yauger,70, is married to the former Regina Galdarisi from Uniontown. They have been married 51 years and have two grown children, a daughter - Robin and a son - Ray, and six grandchildren. Yauger resides in Roswell, GA.
“I love Uniontown,” Yauger said. “And I love coming back. It’s an honor to be inducted into the Fayette County Sports Hall of Fame.”